In a previous post, I talked about our responsibility to learn to truly “treasure” the word of God like the Nephites did– specifically, that we need to do better at prioritizing our study of the Book of Mormon. We need to “level up” our study so that we’re not just reading the words on the page like a novel, but truly study and dig deep.
This is all easier said than done, of course. Most of us find it really difficult to dig in and “delight” in the Book of Mormon like we ought to. Why is that? I asked my Sunday School class this question recently. They’re 16 and 17 years old, so you know they are world-class experts on all the reasons to not do something. They identified 10 obstacles they face when trying to dig deep in the Book of Mormon. Just like the defensive plays in the Super Bowl going on right now, these “blockers” can really get in the way of our scripture study:
- King James English gets in the way
- It’s hard to relate to the people in the Book of Mormon
- Awkward wording
- There’s not enough detail to keep it interesting
- It’s too dense
- It’s depressing
- There’s nothing new there
- Who reads books anymore?
- No time
What a great list! I know I’ve struggled with most or all of those hurdles at some point in my life, and some of them still make it difficult to immerse in the Book of Mormon event today. But as I talked about in my Sunday School class, each one has an explanation and an answer. And if we can honestly evaluate those hurdles and learn how to cope with them, our study can be much more fulfilling.
Blocker #1: King James English gets in the way
This is very true. I wrote in a previous post about how the “thous” and the “yeas” and the “haths” of King James English can really be a stumbling block for many people– especially investigators, recent converts, and children who are not as used to it as many adult lifetime members are. Why is the Book of Mormon so steeped in “ye olde Englishe” anyway?
Many people blame the age of the Book of Mormon translation for this. They have this image in their minds that King James English is just the way Joseph Smith and his contemporaries spoke back in the day. But this is not true. The archaic form of English that we find in our standard works predates Joseph Smith by many decades. If you look at most of the writing in the 1830s, you’ll find that it’s not a far cry from the English we read today (albeit with 100% less emojis). The language Joseph used in translation does not match the vernacular of his day– it matches the style of the King James Version of the Bible. It’s not what people spoke in his day, but it is the language people associated with Scripture and the language that Joseph dictated when revealing another testament of Jesus Christ.
Today, this is not the case in the rest of the world. In most Christian churches, the King James Version of the Bible is the exception more than the rule. People joining our Church are not usually coming from a background of familiarity with King James English, and I expect the understanding gap will continue as the KJV falls further and further out of favor in the rest of Christendom.
I “give it as my opinion” that may be reaching the point where the language of the standard works becomes a barrier to the Lord’s promise that “every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language.” In fact, I would not be surprised at all if the First Presidency were to announce a new edition of the standard works with more modern English in the near future (maybe in a certain “unforgettable General Conference coming up?)
Unless and until the Church publishes a more “accessible” version of the standard works, we’ll just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing for centuries now: deal with it. Whether you are comfortable with King James English, or whether it feels like a foreign language entirely, it’s helpful during your study to take a few moments and “translate” what you’re reading into your normal, vernacular English.
Every time I’ve tried this, I’ve been surprised at the result. When you put yourself in the role of “translator,” you realize that there are often several ways to interpret what at first glance seemed a very straightforward text. This can be a very enlightening experience. And when you can hear the prophets’ words using more familiar phrasing instead of stodgy scriptural language, it becomes at once more personal and more relatable.
For example, we’re all familiar with 1 Nephi 1:1:
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.
Pretty dry stuff, right? Not exactly a gripping intro, wouldn’t you say? But take a moment to pay attention to what the words actually mean. Deconstruct all the therefores and the neverthelesses. Use the semicolons to divide the text into separate statements of truth. Think about what each statement means in isolation, and then what they mean in the context of the other statements. Drop the fancy-pants English and substitute in words that are simpler, clearer, and more relatable. Book of Mormon Central produced a great video showing how we can apply this technique (again, using 1 Nephi 1:1). I highly recommend it:
For example, using the techniques I outlined, here’s the “Matthew Watkins” translation of 1 Nephi 1:1:
My name is Nephi. I was born to some really good parents. Because they were so good, they gave me a pretty broad education. You could say my father taught me a little bit of everything. Now, I’ve been through a lot during my life. But that’s not really the focus of why I’m writing. What’s much more important is that God has always been there for me, blessing me through all of it. I’ve gained a strong testimony of the Gospel. I’ve experienced God’s grace. And that’s the reason I’m writing my story.
Suddenly, the lights turn on and Nephi’s pretty boring intro becomes a lot more interesting, doesn’t it? Remember, I didn’t add anything that wasn’t there or take anything out. I expanded out the fancy King James English into my own way of speaking, and suddenly I can relate to Nephi a lot more. Try this as a helpful exercise for grokking some of the more difficult verses you encounter.
Blocker #2: It’s hard to relate to the people in the Book of Mormon
This is also very true. In fact, sometimes I think we underestimate how hard it is to relate to the men and women of the Scriptures. Nephi said his people had this same problem with their Scriptures. Nephi was a big fan of Isaiah. He quoted Isaiah all over the place and used them to teach his people. However, he specifically noted that the younger generation of his people didn’t understand Isaiah because “they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews.” Isaiah was like an inside joke– “you had to be there” for it to make sense.
If you’ve ever read Jesus the Christ, you know what I’m talking about. Elder Talmage would often spend 30 pages describing the politics, the legal system, the terrain, the culture, and the history of the Jews at the time of Christ. And all the while you’re thinking “OK, that’s an interesting academic exercise, but what does that have to do with the Bible? Then Elder Talmage quotes a parable of Christ that you’ve read a thousand times since Primary and suddenly it’s completely different. Christ didn’t give His Sermon on the Mount to 21st century Americans– He gave it to 1st century Jews in Israel. And when we can understand a little bit of that context, the New Testament takes on newer, deeper, and more nuanced meanings that you could not have otherwise understood unless you were a little familiar with what it is like to be a Galilean Jew in 30 AD.
Am I saying that we can’t fully understand the Book of Mormon without understanding what it was like to be a Nephite? Um, yes. Yes, I am. As long as we are reading the Book of Mormon through the lens of our modern world and our modern culture, we’re going to be “looking through a glass darkly” and only getting half the picture. Just because the Book of Mormon was written “for our day” doesn’t mean it can be understood as if it were written “in our day.”
I see a lot of this in the Church– people cramming a 21st Century Western worldview onto an ancient record and reading messages that I doubt the authors would have agreed with. Heck, given that I’ve written so many posts on this blog, I’m sure I’m guilty of it myself. But we need to be careful when we do this. With a few exceptions at the end, the prophets of the Book of Mormon were not preaching to us. We were not the intended audience. What they wrote doesn’t always perfectly parallel how a prophet would teach the same principle in general conference today. Without a proper understanding of the context of the Book of Mormon people, we can end up superimposing ourselves and our modern sensibilities onto an ancient people, thereby missing important pieces while at the same time interpreting out incorrect messages that were never there to begin with.
What’s worse, the Book of Mormon and the Bible are what anthropologists call “high-context” cultural texts. They are written with the assumption that the reader knows the geography, the customs, the social rules, the political situation, and the lifestyle of the subject people. Achieving this level of context for the Bible isn’t too difficult. There are plenty of resources available to help put you in the shoes of the ancient Jews. But the Book of Mormon is more difficult because we don’t have all the rich background information we do with the Bible.
But that’s not to say we’re completely bereft of this context. You just have to know where to look.
A note about non-Church sources
It’s at this point that I’ll put in my first plug for commentary and scholarly research. Please note, I’m not an apologetics website. As I’ve told some of you who’ve messaged me, I don’t write this blog to push any one geographical model of the Book of Mormon lands. I’ve got more than enough source material to keep me blogging for many more years to come without dipping into too much speculation and theorizing. That said, I am a big fan of the work being done by scholars and researches to add context and commentary to the Book of Mormon.
There are several organizations out there that provide faithful information about the context of the Book of Mormon and commentary on its messages that can help you relate more to the Nephites and Lamanites as they actually existed. Although none of these organizations is an official representative of the Church, they are all faithful sources and maintain a close relationship with the Church research departments. In my earlier post about addressing the “messy” nature of the restoration and some of the doctrinal and historical concerns that commonly get raised, I provided a list of independent organizations that were listed by Elder Kevin W Pearson in his talk at the FAIR Conference under assignment from the First Presidency and re-printed in the official Church news.
I highly encourage everyone to check out the resources I listed there. There is a wealth of information available for each and every verse of the Book of Mormon that will help put puzzle pieces together you’d never thought of before and see the Book of Mormon world a little more like the Book of Mormon people would have seen it.
I’ve also created a page of links I find super helpful on my blog at the top of the navbar under “Resources.” These are fantastic sites and apps you can use to enhance your studies. Some of the notable mentions include Fair Mormon, the Interpreter Foundation, and Book of Mormon Central (with its awesome ScripturePlus app and John Welch notes).
Blocker #3: Awkward wording
Let’s face it: some sentences in the Book of Mormon read like a 6th-grader’s book report. This is definitely a stumbling block if you hope to read the Book of Mormon smoothly like you might read a novel. The grammar and sentence structure can get in the way of the message. Mormon himself acknowledges this. He voiced his concerns to God, saying:
Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing… thou hast not made us mighty in writing… thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands… wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.
But that awkwardness is actually a good thing. Remember: the Book of Mormon was not written in English by English-speakers in a Western English world. It is chock-full of the language of its day– “teeming with literary and Semitic complexity” to borrow Elder Holland’s words. The authors of the Book of Mormon carpeted their accounts with complex multi-layered poetry, clever puns, long and short overlapping chiastic structures, numerous narrative callbacks, added scribal literary devices, and so much more. To a Nephite, I imagine it was quite a beautiful and meticulously crafted work of art. But when you translate it to English, it comes out awkward in many places.
And believe it or not, it used to be even more awkward. Joseph dictated the Book as it was written: no chapters, no verses, and no punctuation. In fact, it was so awkward that Joseph Smith and others had to edit out a lot of what they saw as “bad grammar” in post-1830 editions of the Book of Mormon because they didn’t realize the poor English was good Hebrew shining through the text.
You might be saying right now, “That’s cool, but that doesn’t make the text easier to slide through in English.” I know. But maybe next time you find yourself scratching your head wondering “why did Mormon word it that way?” try looking at some scholarly research on that verse– you may be happily surprised to find that the clumsy sentences you are reading were once beautiful ancient poetry.
Probably the easiest way to find some of these gems is to open the verse in the awesome, free Scripture Plus app and look at the articles under the lightbulb icon. There’s a good chance you’ll find a KnoWhy or other scholarly article talking about the literary device in use in that verse and its surrounding context.
If you don’t see anything, check the KnoWhy articles on Book of Mormon Central’s website and you might find something helpful there. Or even reach out to the researchers at Fair Mormon using the contact form and ask if there are any scholarly details on that verse.
Blocker #4: There’s not enough detail to keep it interesting
We are largely a “narrative” people. Novels, stories– those are what keep out interest. We often don’t even read history books unless they are structured like a novel. We want to know what happened, why it happened, who said what, what the weather was like, and what the characters were thinking and feeling. Fortunately, the Church realizes this and kindly produced the new edition of the Church history, Saints, in narrative form. Wouldn’t it be great if the Book of Mormon were an approachable historical narrative like Saints?
But remember, the Nephite prophets weren’t writing a multi-part 200 year Church history on word processors. They were etching 1,000 years of history onto a handful of metal plates. They were severely limited in space, so they had to plan carefully what to include, probably even planning it out years in advance. They wish they could have included more, but they couldn’t even write “the hundredth part” of what was said and done. And even some of the things they wanted to write were nixed at the last minute by their Divine Editor.
I’m sure if they had enough space, time, and ore, they would have gladly produced a 20-volume history of their nation. But, like it or not, we ended up with the cliff notes of the Readers Digest version summarized during a 1-minute elevator pitch then boiled down to a 140-character tweet.
So remember, Mormon and Moroni were very careful about their wording. They tried to make every character count. By extension, I believe God was very careful in how that wording was translated. It is “the most correct of any book on earth,” after all. It’s just really condensed.
I’m not even saying we need to squint our eyes and read between the lines to get more out of the Scriptures. Just look at what I shared above relating to 1 Nephi 1. When you consider each piece carefully, there’s a lot of cool things Nephi crammed into those 68 words. When you “translate” the words into “normal English,” break apart the sentences, separate the thoughts and extrapolate them, you find ideas and insights that aren’t immediately apparent in the condensed version.
Blocker #5: It’s too dense
“Dense” is the operative word there. My students meant it is dense from a reading perspective– as in “hard to understand.” But I think it’s “dense” in a different way. In the physics world, density is defined as mass divided by volume. In other words, density is a measure of how much “stuff” is in a certain amount of space. A water bottle filled with lead is denser than a water bottle filled with air. In like manner, there is so much more content (and more important content) in the Book of Mormon than you’ll find in any other book. The prophets of the Book of Mormon had to fit as much doctrine and history as possible into only a few plates. They were trying to maximize content density.
That makes it harder to read, but it also makes it more worthwhile to read. You just need to read it differently than you would a novel. Don’t expect to just sit down and read it, letting the words wash over you like you would with a novel. If you try that consistently, you will likely get very little out of it. The Book of Mormon is not meant for just reading– it’s meant for studying. I know I’ve used this quote from Pres. Hunter in a previous post but it bears repeating:
There are some who read to a schedule of a number of pages or a set number of chapters each day or week. This may be perfectly justifiable and may be enjoyable if one is reading for pleasure, but it does not constitute meaningful study. It is better to have a set amount of time to give scriptural study each day than to have a set amount of chapters to read. Sometimes we find that the study of a single verse will occupy the whole time.
That’s why I long ago gave up goals to read a certain length of Scripture and instead set goals to read for a certain amount of time. I get more out of it that way. In my experience, my most enlightening study sessions are those that ironically involve the least number of verses.
So yes, the Book of Mormon is dense. And that’s a really good thing.
Blocker #6: It’s depressing.
OK, fair point. Nephite righteousness in the pride/remembrance cycle never seems to last very long. It always ends in wickedness and suffering until they are humbled and repent. There’s always something bad around the corner and then everyone dies.
But remember, just because wickedness and conflict take up the majority of the records we have doesn’t mean wickedness and conflict took up the majority of the Nephite history. It’s just that when things are going well, there’s not a whole lot to say. Think of the utopian era in 4 Nephi. That blissful period of peace and prosperity lasted for a few hundred years. Yet it only merits a few verses. Don’t you think the prophets would have preferred to write about that? You bet they did. Over and over again they lamented having to write about the wickedness of their people. But God specifically commanded them to only write a little bit about the happy times. That’s why the best part of the Book of Mormon is so short.
It seems God knows we’ll learn more from the difficult times than the good. So learn from it, but take comfort in knowing that the Nephite history was proportionally happier than the Book of Mormon presents it overall.
Blocker #7: There’s nothing new there.
My 4 year old and 18 month old kids have their favorite books that they want to read every single night. I can recite many of their books from heart and have started reading some of them backwards just to keep it interesting. I think some of them might get conveniently “lost” pretty soon. Unfortunately we can feel annoyed by the scriptures in the same way. We get it– Nephi broke his bow and his family murmured but he trusted in the Lord when everyone else didn’t because he was faithful. We know the story. It hasn’t changed since we were in Primary.
And yet we have been commanded by many recent latter-day Prophets and Apostles not to just read the Book of Mormon frequently, but to read it every single day– no matter what our seminary or institute or Come Follow Me focus is (see Pres. Benson, Marion G Romney, Pres. Monson, Pres. Eyring, etc). So what gives? Why go through it time and time again if we get it already?
As Ambrose Bierce said, “There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.” Those who say the Book of Mormon has nothing new to offer hasn’t read it enough. Those who immerse themselves in the Scriptures discover after a few readings that the Book of Mormon is the gift that keeps on giving. No, it’s not easy to get started. My experience is that you have to read it about three times before it starts really opening up to you. But if you are attentive, it always opens up. Pres. Packer promised:
Like all books of profound value, [the Book of Mormon] is not casual reading. But if you persist, I assure you that it will be the most rewarding book you have ever set your mind to read.
Every time I really study the Book of Mormon, I find something new. Not just each time I finish the book– I find something new each and every day I study. New insights, new ideas, new perspectives, and new promptings. Messages I had never seen before. Sometimes they merit a note in the margins. Sometimes they get recorded in my scripture journal. And sometimes they find their way onto my blog. But I know that if I remain alert and attentive during my study, I am guaranteed to get something new out of it.
To reach that deeper meaning, you need to think about the context of what you’re reading. When something seems dry, I try to ask myself these questions:
- Who is speaking?
- When is he writing this?
- What is going on in the world when he is writing this?
- Who is the audience?
- What does the world look like that he is describing?
- How does this relate to the future and past of the Book of Mormon people?
- What questions would you wish you could ask the speaker based on this message?
- If the speaker were speaking to you directly, what would he say is the take-away message here?
- What does this have to do with you?
- What can you change in your life as a result of this verse?
Some of those are tough questions to find right in the text. I’ll add another plug here for commentary and other sources. When you feel like you have just milked a verse dry and there is no other meaning to be had, think again. Look at the talks and manuals that reference that verse using the Scripture Citation app. See what scholars have to say about that verse. See what insights other faithful bloggers like me have shared about that passage. Check out the commentary and videos from ScripturePlus, John Welch, and other sources.
For example, yesterday I read really interesting articles giving approximate age estimates for Lehi and his sons, evidence that Lehi may have been trained as a scribe, evidence of Old Testament allusions in the brass plates story, the idea that 1 Nephi contains a Hebrew colophon, and that Nephi is potentially making a pun in the first verses of the Book of Mormon using the Egyptian root of his own name.
I’m not saying you should crowd-source all your study this way. And I’m not saying it’s necessary for your salvation. But getting the opinions of other great minds highlighting the history and culture and background pieces you didn’t know serves to really make the verses of the Book of Mormon more interesting than they are at face value. Other great minds have shown me new and interesting takes on familiar verses I thought I knew backward and forward, so check them out if you feel the well has gone dry.
Also, this may sound unorthodox, but feel free to speculate! Don’t teach your speculations as doctrines, obviously, but please, speculate away! Here’s an example of what I read recently: Lehi tells us he and Laban were both descendants of Joseph of the tribe of Manasseh. Apparently, they were close enough relatives that Lehi could find a common ancestor in the brass plates. I wonder how close of relatives they were? Maybe there was bad blood there? Maybe that’s why Laman and Lemuel thought it was impossible from the get-go? Laban commanded guards– maybe he was like the mayor or governor? That would make it especially daunting.
I’m not saying any of that is true– it’s just a way to think of what might be going on behind the scenes. If you come up with speculations and ideas that strengthen your faith and add a new possible dimension to the story, then you’re thinking deeply.
And if you come up with some neat insight, please share it! The Book of Mormon has been around for almost 200 years, yet in many respects, it is still a new and fertile field and always interesting. Post it to a blog of your own! One of the great blessings of this blog in my life is that a post requires so much more study and effort than a note in the margins when I learn something new. Each time I write a post to share, I end up a few levels deeper engaged in that topic than I was before I wrote it. I highly recommend sharing insights with others.
Blocker #8: Who reads books anymore?
I’m a busy husband, father, and software developer. I get almost all my news and information in tiny spurts from podcasts, a few RSS feeds, and the occasional YouTube video. It’s not that I don’t like reading books– I love reading– but I just don’t have time to sit down with a book for a few hours like I wish I could. I think many people are in the same boat. Long time spent in books seems to be waning in favor of bite-sized, fast-paced tidbits.
To those who feel like sitting down with a book (even a digital book) is outside their capacity, my suggestion is, well,… don’t.
What I mean by that is: don’t let your aversion to reading the Scriptures prevent you from having any contact with Gospel learning throughout the day. It’s not like you have to either sit down for an hour and read or else not learn at all. If an hour with a desk and a copy of the Book of Mormon doesn’t sound realistic to you, start with what you can do in a format that works for you. You probably have a daily commute to work or school or time doing chores, right? Well, instead of listening to the radio or Spotify during your morning commute, try listening to something Gospel-related.
Right now you’re probably thinking I’m going to say you should pull up the Gospel Library app on your phone and have the Book of Mormon narrated to you. You could do that but I actually don’t recommend it. Remember earlier when I said the Book of Mormon isn’t engaging when read like a novel? Well, it’s even less engaging in audiobook form. I mean, if you can actually focus on some guy reading a “Compare Isaiah” chapter in the most monotone voice imaginable, props to you. But every time I try listening to the scriptures while driving, I’m completely zoned out within 2 minutes and possibly starting to fall asleep at the wheel.
Unless you have the world’s most durable attention span, I recommend starting with something more interesting and approachable– something like General Conference talks or a podcast. Some people may look at podcasts as “cheating” because you’re listening to an “unofficial” source. But in my view, learning the Gospel in an “insightful yet unofficial” way is better than just tuning out the official source entirely and getting nothing out of it.
A few years ago, I started this habit of listening to Church-related podcasts and talks on my way into work every day. That habit has transformed my attitude during my morning commute and my overall attitude throughout the day. I arrive at work thinking about the things of the Gospel and excited to learn more. All with next to zero effort on my part. I highly recommend it.
There are many really cool Gospel-related podcasts out there where engaging hosts share some awesome insights. I’ll add a few to the Resources link at the top of the page, but my favorite sources are General Conference talks, BYU Devotionals, the Book of Mormon Central podcast, the Fair Mormon podcast, the Interpreter Foundation podcast, and the Latter-Day Saint Mission Cast.
Audio not your thing? Fine. Make a habit of watching a Book of Mormon video, a General Conference talk, a devotional address, or a Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy every day. There are tons of both Church-produced and independently-produced uplifting content out there. Anything is better than nothing.
Blocker #9: No time
Starting with a podcast or something when it’s convenient during a commute is great, but it’s only the first step. Next, you need to learn to actually take the time to sit down and seriously study the Book of Mormon itself. Developing this kind of habit when you’re not a studious type is not easy, but you really just have to do it.
I hit on this heavily last week, but I’ll hit on it again because it’s so critical: when something is actually important to us, we naturally prioritize it and make it happen. We can talk about what we consider important all day long, but words are cheap– it’s how we spend our time that tells where our hearts really lie. When we say we don’t have time for a serious study of the Gospel, what we’re really saying is studying the Gospel is not important enough for us to make time for it.
Overcoming this obstacle involves plain old grit and determination. It involves forcefully changing our priorities– knuckling down and committing to change. It comes from promising ourselves that no matter what, we will not let our heads hit the pillow until we have spent however many minutes studying the Book of Mormon. If we don’t have time, we have to make the time.
Eventually, once we establish that habit, studying will become a joy to us and an enlightening experience. But when you’re first starting, it doesn’t even matter whether we get anything out of our study at first. Do whatever you have to do to establish a regular study habit. Here are a few ideas:
- Put a giant “scripture rock” on your bed that you would need to move to go to sleep so you can’t forget.
- Store your toothbrush under a copy of the Book of Mormon with a little message reminding you to “whiten your soul before you whiten your smile.”
- Set alarms on your phone for the middle of the night to wake you up if necessary.
- Create a sticker chart and put it up on the wall (yes, just like you used for potty training).
- Write a check for $100 to a person or cause you dislike and give it to a friend with strict instructions to mail it if you didn’t read the day before (like this guy did).
In essence, do whatever it takes– literally whatever it takes– to firmly establish the habit studying the scriptures every single day. No time for scriptures and a social life? Ditch your friends. Schoolwork eating up all your spare time? Go ahead and take the hit on your grades. Have to decide between scripture study and your 8 (or 6 or 4) hours of precious sleep? Make do with half an hour less of sleep and get yourself into the scriptures!
Do I sound a bit extreme or fanatical right now? Tell that to Elder Richard G Scott:
Don’t yield to Satan’s lie that you don’t have time to study the scriptures. Choose to take time to study them. Feasting on the word of God each day is more important than sleep, school, work, television shows, video games, or social media. You may need to reorganize your priorities to provide time for the study of the word of God. If so, do it!
I cannot overstate the importance of establishing a habit of serious daily study of the scriptures. Once you’ve firmly established the habit, it will become automatic and part of your routine. You won’t need to remind yourself. Eventually, you’ll reach the point where you won’t be able to fall asleep until you’ve studied the scriptures. The Spirit and the force of your habit will literally keep you awake until you’ve studied the scriptures.
From experience, I believe the habit of daily serious scripture study will have the single greatest positive impact on your life than anything could have. It will keep you rooted in the Gospel, keep life in perspective, and change you in amazing ways. There is no substitute. As Pres. Packer taught, “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”
Maybe we give up our favorite Netflix show. Maybe our whole Netflix subscription. Whatever we have to sacrifice to establish that habit, it will be worth it. In the words of Nephi:
Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy… Feast upon that which perisheth not… Feast upon the words of Christ.
Ultimately, nothing we could be doing with our time can satisfy us or be of any worth if it comes at the expense of our daily study of the word of God. Whatever we have to sacrifice will be 100% worth it.
Blocker #10: Distractions
(I know that many of my students may not remember this obstacle being written on the board because they were too busy messaging their friends to pay attention when this last one made it onto the board. That’s what you might call irony).
I love studying on my tablet and my phone. On my mission, we didn’t have access to smartphones, so all our studying was done on good old-fashioned paper Scriptures. I brought the set of scriptures I received at my baptism 11 years before my mission. I loved those scriptures. I marked them up and added notes in the margins and highlighted for each lesson and felt like they were truly mine. They were worn and tattered and well-loved. I had to replace their cover with cut-up cardboard. They looked pretty ghetto, but I loved studying in them.
And then a few months after my mission, they disappeared, never to be found again (my wife still swears she did not throw them out, but admits that since they were covered in nondescript cardboard and looked like trash, it is a distinct possibility). Years of highlights and notes and bookmarks were suddenly gone.
So I started using the Gospel Library app to study. And boy was I missing out before! I couldn’t back up my notes on paper scriptures to the cloud. I never lose my digital scriptures. I never have to carry my digital scriptures. They’re always with me. I couldn’t link verses on my paper scriptures. I couldn’t reference General Conference talks on my paper scriptures. I didn’t have infinite margin space on my paper scriptures. I couldn’t search for certain phrases easily on my paper scriptures. Once I realized all the cool features of the Gospel Library app, I’ve never voluntarily studied paper scriptures since.
My wife, on the other hand, refuses to study using any device. At first, I would make fun of her. So behind the times. Missing out on so much that the Gospel Library app has to offer. I used to wonder why she never really gave it a try. Until one day when her copy of the Book of Mormon was missing, she reluctantly agreed to study with me using her phone.
I said, “OK, so let’s pick up where we left off in Alma 2. Could you start, honey?” She nodded and picked up her phone. A silent 30 seconds passed. I saw her scrolling… and scrolling… and scrolling. I thought maybe she was trying to find the right verse we’d stopped at or maybe she had started reading it to herself. I cleared my throat and said, “could we try reading it out loud?”
She looked up confused, then turned red. She had opened her phone intending to pull up the Gospel Library app, but the moment the phone unlocked, her thumb clicked on her social media app out of sheer habit and suddenly she was scrolling through posts of mommy blogs, recipes, and interior decorating ideas. Now I understood why my wife preferred paper scriptures.
You’ve probably had experiences like that. I know I have (Google News and RSS Feeds are my siren calls). But don’t think this is a problem that only afflicts millennials and teens; my wife and I are in good company. Stephen W Owen, the Young Men General President of the Church confessed to a similar experience in General Conference. He missed an entire 2-hour daily study session because he, too, got lost somewhere between his phone’s unlock screen and the Gospel Library app (link). It happens. And it happens all the time.
So in addition to the tips listed in the previous section, if you keep finding yourself in a less productive app when you sit down for Scripture study, try my wife’s philosophy: put down the phone or tablet and study on good old-fashion, notification-free paper.